BY SAMUEL ABULUDE
Neza is a Canadian-based singer, who, recently relocated to Nigeria to hone her craft. The 23-year-old beauty left her high-paying job to follow her heart. Signed to MCG Empire Music, the Kinshasa-born Rwandan speaks to SAMUEL ABULUDE on her influences and plans for her music career.
At what point did you decide to do music professionally?
It was about six years ago. But music has always been a great part of my growing up. My mum told me that when I was growing up, our neighbours would invite me to their houses to dance during a party. Sometimes, they will play music and will be like “Go get Neza”. I was always dancing. In the neighbourhood if there was any kid people remembered when there was a party, it was me. It was like that growing up. But professionally, it was six years ago when I said I was going to take it as a business because I was always singing at family weddings, at schools, talent shows and stuff like that. I told my family what I wanted to do. I started saving up my money and started investing in myself when MC Galaxy discovered me.
Yes, I was going there. How did he do that from Congo?
I wasn’t in Congo when he discovered me. I was living in Canada. He discovered me online in NotJustOk website. We got talking on social media and he signed me on. For about a year, I was his artiste from Canada until I decided to relocate to Nigeria. We are just meeting for the first time.
Before music what were you doing?
I was working. I had a contract with the Canadian government. It was cool. I had a great team. It was a position most people would die to have. But it was routine and boring.
Do you mind throwing more light?
We sold insurance, life assurance, all kinds of insurance to clients like the government. It was good money.
And you left that for music?
Yes, I left that for my passion. Wouldn’t you? Money is not everything. And there is money in the music industry as well. You have to take risks in life. I was going to become a financial adviser but things didn’t work out. I was studying to get my licence when I got the opportunity to do my first EP in London. So I put that on hold and flew to London for weeks. When I came back, I shot the video for one single and one thing led to another and I am right here.
How many languages do you speak?
Beside English, I speak four different languages: French, Lingala from Congo, Kinyarwanda, a language spoken in Rwanda and Swahili, a language that is spoken in East Africa.
Congolese music had initial influence on Nigerian music.
What would you say is the state of the Congolese music and dance today?
I think for us dance is still huge. It is almost a culture of Congelese people and one of the reasons I am connected to the MCG Empire because MC Galaxy is a dancer. We are always dancing. And it never dies because there is always a new song and a new dance. Even while in Canada, I was always connected to the music and dance in Congo. Also, I think Congolese music still has the unique melody as well. It is not always about dancing, we also have a lot of beautiful love songs that are extremely well written. I grew up listening to Koffi Olomide, Mbilia Bel, Wenge Music, Madilu System. These are like the real artistes in Congo, you know. I was privileged to learn from that. I think that is priceless. I had a strong base. If we take those sounds and fuse them with what is happening now, I think we can create something beautiful for sure.
And what in your opinion made Congolese classics unique?
I think the guitar is great and it’s invaluable to Congolese music. They had some of the best guitar players to my mind as well as the drum pattern. There is something about the drum pattern that makes people want to dance; and then the way the songs are written, the melodies. The production is really brilliant.
What would you say about Congolese music at the moment?
I think it is still emerging. For instance, I like what Fali Pupa has done. He has being collaborating with other artistes from France, US and from Nigeria. I watched his progression as an artiste. I knew him when he was with Koffi as a background singer. I watched him stand on his own feet. And even like his peers in the industry, they’re still able to make us dance. We are still blessed. Like Nigerians say, making a hit song no be beans. We still have some talented artistes doing really well in Congo.
What in particular is the reason Congo did not take the lead in African music? Is it that there were not too many players or that the younger artistes were not encouraged?
I think in comparison to the Nigerian music, Congolese music has not been affected by Western culture. The Nigerian music has been westernised.
I mean why didn’t it grow just as big since it was well accepted in Nigeria?
Yes, because it is very authentic and built to suit the Congolese audience or African audience. This is in terms of the way it was marketed. For instance, the only person that has been able to break out of that box is Fali Pupa because he was able to do a song with a French artiste and that blew him up. Things like that are new to Congo. And I think it was the way the older players put things together, the image, the sound, the branding. There is a lot that comes to play in the creative industry. Of them all, branding is very key. And if there is something Nigeria has been able to succeed at, it is how they package their sound. It is brilliant. I wouldn’t ask for a better home of music, or a better platform for music branding and promotion than here. For instance, MC Galaxy knows how to put things together. He is brilliant when it comes to that. And we love Nigerian music and food. I am team Nigeria and team Congo all the way. And I also think everybody has their time.
How do you intend to blend your sound with the emerging Nigerian sound and other influences?
Yes, that is the mission, blending. I am working to fuse some of Congolese sounds to the Afro sound that is doing great around the world. For instance, on MC Galaxy’s album, I was featured on four tracks. And on the four tracks, I sang in Lingala, in French, and in Kinyarwanda as well. We are basically putting it in the record. So far, people are liking the mix of Afro-Caribbean sound. When I listen to MC Galaxy, I don’t care what he says. In fact, I don’t understand half of what he says. But l love the way it sounds. It sounds sweet, and that is the thing. If put it the right way, languages do not interrupt the melody of music production.
How long are you going to stay here?
I am going to be here for a while. I relocated. I left my family, I left everything. So I am here now. This is my new home. I have always been around Nigeria. The food is not new to me. The culture is not new to me. The music is not new to me. And in some ways Nigerians are very similar to Congolese people. So when people ask me, “how do you feel?” I am like, “I feel right at home”. I am blending in.
Have you had jollof rice?
Yes, I have had jollof rice, but I can’t have too much of jollof rice. If I do, my boss wouldn’t like it.
What is your favourite Nigerian food?
My favourite is egwusi soup and pounded yam. On a bad day, pounded yam and egwusi soup lifts my spirit up. Even when I was in Canada, I would drive to the Nigerian restaurants just to get my egwusi and pounded yam or okra soup.
Within the short time you have been here, what is your opinion of Nigerian musicians?
Sometimes when I sit down with the in-house producers it is unbelievable. I think Nigerians are just brilliant. There is so much talent, the production, the concept for the records, the way the artistes sing; the languages and think this is the right place for me. And I just can’t wait for people to know what I have for Nigeria, to be honest. You may look at me and be like, “She is RnB”. And yes I do have some RnB background, but my base is Lingala, Congolese music. Normally, I wouldn’t talk like this, but this is the first time I am loving what we are creating. Thanks to Nigeria. It is crazy here.